Flight: Spain, France, Andorra: Pyrenees, Snow & Clouds

I suppose a diversion from the weightier matters of pissy mathematical philosophy is in order. This flight was taken the day after the one in the prior blog post, in late May, after the Pyrenees got dusted with a coating of high altitude snow, even though some of the snow pack remained. Even better, there were some clouds forming off the spine of the Pyrenees, blowing slowly eastward into France. Despite the seeming stationary element, there were some interesting winds and clouds all around, making the flight technically complex yet absolutely beautiful.

France and Andorra. Logic implies turning around.

AndorraSpring (1 of 17) AndorraSpring (2 of 17)

Puigpedrós in the left corner. Spain, France, and Andorra in this image.
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Puigpedrós in the center. Apparently there was a glacier beneath it 50 years ago. I find it hard to believe it snows after how hot this summer has been….
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Conventional pilot wisdom says this is stupid.
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Andorra left, France right.
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France left, Andorra right.
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Mostly Andorra here.
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Andorra is most of the image. Spain in the right and horizon.
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Andorra this side, Spain the other.
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Descending into La Cerdanya, cold and happy.
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Flight: Spain: Coscojuelas, Among Other Things

Chronicles of Existential Dread, Volume IV: Moral Culpability of Chance

Before I dive into the latest manifesto, I shall note that I got the ingenious idea to ask a Catalonian what the difference between “serrat” and “serra” is. “Serra” is a hill; “serrat” is a smaller hill.

Secondly, I will note that I labeled my Chronicles incorrectly in installment III. It is Existential Dread, not despair. I personally attract to despair, though in keeping with a modicum of literary integrity, I am modeling this ongoing fusillade after bleak German philosophy, so I will use their Angst-fueled sentiments (You may note the capital A in Angst. German nouns are always capitalized, including midsentence. The German word for angst – Angst – is a far more powerful, guttural, melancholic, and existentially bleak concept than English angst, hence I use the uppercase A, even though I am probably the only one that would understand what I am doing).

Before diving into the philosophy of apparent and illusory moral culpability, I must draw a line in the sand between Chance and Risk. Conceptually, they appear to be interchangeable, though emotional and cultural complexities are powerful. Risk is a more mathematical term, which is indeed correct, as all actions or inactions in life carry an anthropologically agnostic mathematical probability. Insurance companies know this fact, hiring super nerds (which I envy greatly) to create actuarial tables clearly denoting risks and probabilities, making them an engine of profit at the behest of society’s illnesses, accidents, catastrophe, and best of all, mortality (don’t get me started on my fetish for janitor life insurance pools, or firms that specialize in buying out existing life insurance policies on prospective, soon-to-be-dead sellers). Culturally, we identify with this mathematical meat grinder by referring to the acceptance of risk as a deliberate act: skydiving, driving fast, thrill sports, general aviation (hey, imagine that!), and a host of other things that we choose to do and generally do not need to do, though need can muddy the waters.

Chance. Chance, my fickle mathematical mistress. How we all caress her in our minds, hoping the good lady of Chance won’t bend us over the barrel and ruin everything about our lives at some unpredictable, vulnerable, emotionally weak moment. Chance is raw emotion – it is our perspective as to why we think things happen along with the vain need to create meaning when the shit hits the fan. For millenniums, Chance was either a literal god itself, or the concept of chance was spread into a pantheon of them, taking on seemingly specific and intentional roles in the lives of humanity. Oh, if only your cherished relative that got eaten by a bear was for the good of the Universe – mathematical risk unfortunately says that he was bruin cuisine and now is fertilizing the soil in the forest. Risk sucks. Chance at least holds futile if not pseudo-spiritual hope.

Chance reflects items we tend not to hold people to account for, either. The “freak accident,” “act of God,” “wrong place at the wrong time,” “accident prone,” or, best of all, “bad luck.” As I write these sentences, I am brimming with feelings that chance has a cultural identity – it is as though it is a living, breathing, thinking force that gives or takes in a whimsical, yet superstitiously purposeful way, acting enough like a leaf in the breeze to behave like risk, yet leaving us wanting just enough to find out who or what lies behind the curtain and is pulling the strings. Luck, superstition, hope, delusion are all relatives in the same family, part of our deep need to identify meaning behind what happens in our existences which, truth be told, end in death. There is no risk, chance, or luck operating in this spectrum, with the exception of timing and method, for which in a moment of macabre glee, I must confess that most of my friends and family think it is inevitable that I will smash into the side of a mountain someday. While I don’t have this as a goal, it would be a far more efficient way to turn my biological mass into plant food. I have always imagined a catastrophic self-pancaking to be more enjoyable than an orderly and traditional funeral after a stupid period of geriatricism.

The attempt to personify Chance as a purposeful entity does one thing that ensures our lives are more likely to be a product of chance: deflects attention away from multiplicitous cumulative micro decisions in our lives. The theory of a “butterfly in the Amazon” flapping its wings which sends a chain reaction in motion which results in you being late for work has some popularity to it – and makes the butterfly responsible. What about our own butterflies? When do we make a “puff of wind” in the ripple of our personal space-time continuum, for which it is part of a brutally complex yet ideologically simple concept called decision-making and personal responsibility? If we accept that we made the puff of wind and not the Brazilian butterfly, then we can flap our butterfly wings in another direction.

How utterly freaking novel.

Wait! Stop thinking too hard. Go back and blame whatever group of people you hate, tell me I am lucky to live how I do, and try to catch that Amazonian butterfly if you have the chance.

Back to book marketing (I’m not passive aggressive. Nope.). I got slapped with more nice weather in short order, so it was time to head southwest into the western-style sections of Catalunya, then off into Aragón, only to land in a really cool place in Coscojuelas, before returning back to Cerdanya where the weather went to pot with high wind, clouds, and rain, and the audacity of a giant vulture to try to smash into my airplane in flight. Shall I call the close encounter of the vulture kind chance and shift the blame? Or is it risk because I am a “crazy” that flies a “death trap?” Or should I just blame the bird? Or was it fate and it was supposed to happen (really? I had to bring up fate, didn’t I?)?

A reminder that the northward creep of the Sahara pauses during the winter.
Coscojuelas (1 of 49)

Riu Segre and Pre-Pyrenees.
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Semi-arid highlands. 
Coscojuelas (3 of 49)
Coscojuelas (4 of 49)

Shit happens.
Coscojuelas (5 of 49)

Tremp. (Not Trump)
Coscojuelas (6 of 49)
Coscojuelas (7 of 49) Coscojuelas (8 of 49)

Iberian maintenance practices.
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I am tempted to fly through this every time I see it.
Coscojuelas (10 of 49)

Another perspective. On the Aragón side now. Will these be two separate countries on Oct 1 after the referendum?
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East of Benabarre. They have a nice airport but forgot about the technicality called “fuel.”
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Coscojuelas (15 of 49)
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Getting into the open plains, and it is very windy here.
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Couldn’t land at destination due to screaming wind – divert to Coscojuelas instead.
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Egregious lack of suitable emergency landing locations.
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Yes, that is an airport. Note the church at the foreground end.
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Same said church.
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Departing toward home.
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Retracing my steps – basically 20 miles north.
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The ravine I am tempted to fly through is on the horizon.
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Mysterious agricultural basin where Tremp is.
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Coscojuelas (44 of 49)

I am disinclined to figure out where this village is.
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Coscojuelas (46 of 49)

La Seu d’Urgell airport, with worsening weather.
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Cadí-Moixeró, not with a blue sky anymore.
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Foul weather with wind, La Cerdanya. Just a few hours before, it was bright sun.
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Flight: Spain: Calaf

Chronicles of Existential Despair, Volume III: Luck

An oft-heard phrase I hear is “You’re lucky to be able to do what you do.” At first glance, I tend to agree, on a social if not American class/culture level, and after careful and contemplative consideration, I continue to drift from agreeing with that disposition.

One has to ask: what is luck? According to a dictionary definition, it is “success of failure brought about by chance as opposed to one’s actions.” I would amend the definition to restrict it to positive chance events, as people do not tend to refer to a “lucky” person as one who has the shit hit the fan on a regular basis. So, in effect, I am being told that what I am doing is a result of a semi-divine gift, and that what choices I make has nothing to do with it.

Of course, somebody would say, “no, I don’t mean you have nothing to do with it, just that you’re lucky you get to do it.” ??? That brings up deeper principles: namely privilege and achievement. Privilege is not earned; achievement is earned. To receive a pleasant life as a result of privilege falls under the purview of luck; to receive a pleasant life as a result of achievement has nothing statistically to do with luck. Political discourse implies that those who have earned achievement are still lucky, and drives complex discussions about how society should be shaped.

To me, all things are probabilistic distributions of outcomes. Every decision has a bell curve of potential realities with multiple standard deviations to either side of the center. Most see a binary reality, when life is really a continuing progression of probability based on controllable and uncontrollable inputs to the decision matrix. Throw in the occasional asteroid impact, lottery ticket, commercial airline crash, and so forth, and people begin to believe that either a supernatural being with personality or conspiratorial global forces under specific control are puppet-mastering their daily life. This has to do with the inverse magnitude of probability and impact overlaid on the same bell curve, and here we go, I have stooped in the muck of “The Human Theory of Everything,” my first book, clearly a product entirely of chance, as it wrote itself without my involvement.

Now that anyone who actually read this drivel is totally lost (and has probably scrolled down to the pretty pictures by now), my point is this: if you want something, get off your ass and go get it – don’t complain to me about it. Life is a continuing progression of small decisions, with powerful cumulative effects seemingly so distant from prior activities that it is hard for people to see the correlation between the cause and effect of the lives they have chosen. I have many experiences and skills that others do not, and others have many life aspects that I do not. Time and time again, wealthy, independent, and capable people have looked at my lifestyle with jealousy, telling me that they “can’t” do what I do. Oh, they can. The reality is, there is fear, or they won’t prioritize it. Why am I getting sucked into this emotional horse crap?

My grandfather taught me when I was very young that “you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it.” Well, here we are, and I continue to live by those words to this day. Luck has very little to do with it, with exception of events completely and unequivocally beyond my control, for which I am still in control of my response to them. Luck, as a social construct, to me is a transference of internal fears, restrictions, and priorities in a seemingly socially-acceptable way to faceless outside forces, creating value out of not achieving something that a person wants while retaining the right to whine to an audience about it.

I might add, in the name of intellectual honesty, that we do have a poor track record of public information regarding the true cost and true lack of compensation that public figures receive. Many Olympians pay for their own training and trips to the Olympics, needing to find sponsors to win the gold, then getting handed an income tax bill by Uncle Sam for the value of the medal, curiously lacking any cash compensation. Conversely, a select few get massive endorsements. The road is filled with dead bodies of artists, authors, musicians, sports figures, actors, business leaders, and politicians who scraped by with a miserable existence until redeemed by explosive success. Marketing strategies prefer to hide the shame, so we come to believe that the road is paved with gold for many, and just not us – we must be doing something wrong. These are flatly incorrect, biased, and nuanced feeds of data, and drive the belief that a select chosen few are in the proper club to be blessed, and life for the rest sucks, hence the deduction that luck must be the driver. In my case, I will not stoop to competing as to who has more negatives, though rest assured that I do not spend all of my waking hours in a plane taking pictures of the best sites on only perfect weather days. Wait, never mind, please believe that I do and then buy some of my books!

Now that my little bout of socio-actuarial bitchiness is over, this flight was another “Down There” (refer to post by the same name), wandering around the non-homogenous indescript middle sections of Catalunya, which defy my every attempt at some element of geographical and political taxonomy. For the masses: it was a pretty day and I wanted to fly to a spot I saw on the map.

Cadí-Moixeró – unplanned diversion up into the wind and cold.
Socioactuarialrant (1 of 24)
Socioactuarialrant (2 of 24)

Serra del Verd – looking “down there” into the uncategorizable never-never land of central Catalunya.
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Pantà de la Llosa del Cavall
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Serra Llarga
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There is generally something anomalous going on in the Iberian Peninsula.
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This road says a lot about culture. Spain categorically makes short-term decisions to go around obstacles. America would level this whole thing, put a straight road in, and ask questions later.
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Socioactuarialrant (10 of 24)

I am tempted to call this “quintessential Catalunya,” but by who’s definition? This looks more like Upstate New York, where I was born, than any stereotypical picture of a Mediterranean nation. 
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Socioactuarialrant (12 of 24)

Wealth next to a collapsed building. The haves and have-nots.
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I came to see this feature, though I am ultimately too close to it. The details are obscuring the patterns as seen by a satellite.
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This is Calaf “airport,” literally. The cowling is open to cool the engine during the pit stop.
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Montserrat in the distance.
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Is there a straight line anywhere in this country?
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Definitely not.
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Some sort of mining activity.
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Berga. Apparently “berga” means “penis” in Argentina, but not in Catalunya.
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Serrat Negre. I haven’t figured out why some hills are “Serra” in Catalunya and others “Serrat.” 
Socioactuarialrant (24 of 24)

Flight: Spain: Multiple Seasons in One Flight

Chronicles of Existential Dread, Volume II

If you’re wondering what the title is all about, look up “Existential Dread.” It’s a bleak philosophical movement championed by none other than…Germans.

I hear a familiar refrain that my life is so utterly splendid; therefore, any negatives don’t really exist, and that’s just that. My natural response is to remind people that I am human, every day is another toward the march to death, and I share similar miseries as everyone. That seems to land with a dull thud, and I am reminded that because I live in Spain and have an airplane, I am apparently in a near constant state of orgasmic bliss.

Has it occurred to anyone that discharging the problems of America and moving to Spain means embracing the problems of Spain? Does Spain come off as a problem-free society with its long list of its own issues?

It is interesting if I were to list some of my human challenges that bring me into the realm of normal, that it would elicit a competition as to who’s life is worse. For some reason, that is a trait I find with people – whether it’s the happiest man on earth or the most miserable – so I am not going to trigger it here, other than to share the words of a friend who is an international wedding photographer, therefore also in a state of constant orgasmic bliss: “Everything about my life follows me around, no matter what country I am in.”

I think there are two misconceptions in play with the travel/expatriate/second home/whatever lifestyle. When people travel to a place, they are experiencing something for the first time. That holds true whether in a small airplane or in a more traditional mode of transportation. In any case, the first time is always the most interesting and emotionally titillating. For some reason, people equate living in exotic places as though each day is like the first time visiting. Over time, the thrill is replaced with the equilibrium of normal, and then negatives start surfacing, or the tolerance for the negatives starts dropping. There is a known curve where happiness from moving to a foreign country is initially blissful, then worse, then stabilizes at a normal level. Yes, normal, back where one started. I know, I ruin everything!

The second element is that, when people wish to either move or travel, whether it is to another country or to finally have that vacation home, it is imagined that all positives of the current lifestyle will be retained, negatives shed, and new positives added. If anyone could actually pull that off, I too would be howling that they have a problem free life. The fact is, negatives and positives from the old life disappear, and negatives and positives with the new life present themselves. As this is an opinion contrary to the current “travel is cool” mainstream, it is hard to find a lot of data on the subject, though I have found plenty that tells me it is not all a bed of roses for many people. Even worse, when splashed with the bucket of cold reality in one’s face, it creates a craving to go back, yet coupled with the knowledge that such a thing won’t work either as one has incontrovertibly grown on a personal level.

I have often philosophically wondered how someone else’s lack should create my pleasure. For example, the fact that I fly regularly should make me even happier because most people don’t get to do it? That to me is more bleak and sad than anything else. The facts about the brain are that an individual likes or dislikes something, and that’s that. I will get as much enjoyment or pain out of any particular choice because those are the merits of the decision. The only relevance the situation of others offers is expectation management.

Nonetheless, most people would read this, tell me I am just whining and to shut up, while fantasizing about having a similar lifestyle as mine. If said lifestyle is achieved eventually, and the same realities smash them in the face, “I had a villa in Spain for a while. It just didn’t work for me” would be the line spewed out at a cocktail party.

As for the blog, I have decided to only post the bigger flights, as the infrared camera showed up in late May and seriously overloaded my entire workflow. This flight dates to mid-May, and I am posting it so I can have more push pins and remind myself that summer will be over soon, thankfully, as I like snow and do not find heat attractive.
Penyes Altes de Moixeró

Olot (1 of 11)

Tosa d’Alp – with fresh snow on the summit. Note fresh foliage below. This was taken mid-May.
Olot (2 of 11)

Pic Carlit, France – from Serra Cavallera, Spain.
Olot (3 of 11)

Ribes de Freser, Vall de Núria
Olot (4 of 11)

Foothills, I guess. Note haze on the right getting drawn in from the Mediterranean.
Olot (5 of 11)

Sant Miguel de Campmajor. The crazy thing is that just yesterday I learned that I was within a few miles of an outdoor erotic sculpture park. It is located just outside of the image to the left. Adding that to the list of places to go. Maybe international living isn’t so bleak after all!
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Volcano – Olot
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Olot (8 of 11)

Refugi de Santa Magdalena del Mont – note the greens getting lighter the higher one goes. Still spring.
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Some hill. Roughly 4,500 feet (1.400m) elevation. Note leaves struggling to come out. 
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Some other hill. Notice how its starting to cloud up. This was still relatively early in the day, though it is a concern in the coastal areas. Clouds tend to hose up my pictures.
Olot (11 of 11)


Flight: Spain, France, Andorra: August Snow

There is an element of misconception to the product of my imagery. At present, I am of the disposition that global society is at a turning point when it comes to perspectives of travel and tourism. For centuries, peasant farmers were damned to backbreaking labor, early deaths, and child mortality while confined to a hellacious plot of dirt that might as well have been a concentration camp. Vacations were out of the realm of consideration, except for aristocracy.

In the 20th century, middle class life allowed for the periodic vacation, coupled with travel advancements, tantalizing the masses with the life of an aristocrat, at least for a small amount each year, a product of our cultural presumption of that which is good and bad.

Now enter the era of remote work, interconnectedness, cheap airline travel, and worst of all, social media, and travel has become the domain of mass hipsterdom. We are on a manic collective binge of incremental bucket-listing, all trying to outdo each other fluttering temporally all over the planet, superficially checking places off the list while achieving next to no depth in the process.

For the record, this is not what I am doing living here in Europe. I also am making the declaration that we are at the beginning of the possibility of the global conversation shifting to a more minimalist approach: perhaps we are better off making our own lives more interesting, instead of having to jet off to some destination to have an expensive, short-term artificial experience that resembles nothing other than staying at a hotel, all the while irking the locals. Europe is having a wave of anti-tourism protests, as they should, because it’s a joke.

Venice receives 28,000,000 visitors per year, while 55,000 people live there. Andorra, just over the hill, receives 12,000,000 visitors per year, while 84,000 live there. I could go on with accurate statistics that reflect a philosophically macabre picture of our bleached cultural reality, and from having lived in the American West, I can assure you that the list is long of how many of those visitors identify with each place, thinking they would like to live there. Would they? Or are they seeking to recreate a slice of their life that they live for one or two weeks per year, while returning to a dull and pedestrian existence? Do they want to share Venice with 28,000,000 people? There exists no Venice on this planet without the tourists yet almost all tourists that “just love Venice” imagine living there without the tourists; that is the unfortunate reality I am speaking of.

Somewhere along the way, I fell into sin and started making push pins on my blog to show the places I have been. In a statement of hypocrisy, it did and still does feel good to look at even though I haven’t updated it in months. On the other hand, global social and market forces seem to only be interested in the superficial; potential publishers told me as much. What I really am after, and have been all along, is some level of insightfulness, a shred of art, the comprehension of perspective afforded by an airplane, or maybe humans are an infestation and the sky is the only place I can find some elbow room.

Therefore, you’ll note my blogging has slacked off, though fear not, I am flying more than ever. I’ll have to come up with a new way to reconcile my nearly autistic obsession with push pins to my nihilistic disdain for it appearing like mass global excess.

Oh, it snowed in August. Here are some pretty pictures. Add the Pyrenees to your bucket list.

Riu Segre, Cadí-Moixeró in the background. A resplendent day compared to the last month.
AugustSnow (1 of 19)

Ascending the Pyrenees.
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And there is the snow.
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Snow with some infrared. Green grass at the summits complicates things a bit as it also appears white.
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Border of Andorra, Spain, and France, in infrared.
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Infrared with red and blue channel swap, Andorra. This makes the sky blue-ish. 
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Some mountain. If the engine quits and I have to ditch up here, you all can piss off and I am staying there.
AugustSnow (10 of 19)

Border of Andorra, Spain, and France, in visible spectrum. 
AugustSnow (11 of 19)

Puigpedros hiding in the clouds, infrared.
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Andorra – there is some complication flying at 10,000 feet around moving clouds, peaks, and actually in some mountain waves in between the clouds.
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AugustSnow (15 of 19)

Channel swap infrared stuff again. Ho hum. I’d rather look at pictures of people drinking beer on social media. 
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Changed my mind! Went up the Val du Carol. Over France in this photo, looking at Andorra, getting beat up by rotors.
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France, in infrared, no channel swap, nor black and white filter applied, hence sepia sky as it comes off the IR camera.
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Typically very clear day in La Cerdanya, which actually over-saturates the image. Long final for runway 25.
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